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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
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PRETORIUS, Laurette. The role of the Afrikaans Wikipedia in the growth of Afrikaans. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2016, vol.56, n.2-1, pp.371-390. ISSN 2224-7912.

In 2015, Afrikaans celebrated its 90th birthday as an official language of South Africa. In the course of these 90 years, Afrikaans progressed in the physical space from a so-called kitchen and domestic language to a mature, fully developed language, suitable and extensively used in all walks of life, including the church, school, university, science, sports, culture, law and economics. From being considered as "language of the oppressor", Afrikaans grew into a model for the other South African languages; into a language of hope (Langner 2015). Influential writers refer to the electricity, the wonder, the triumph, but also the tragedy of Afrikaans (Steyn 2014; McLachlan 2010) due to the recently increasing pressure towards terminating the use of Afrikaans in secondary and higher education, and the work place. By 2015 it was clear that the efforts towards advancing Afrikaans were by no means a matter of the past. Now, in its 91st year, Afrikaans is confronted with the #AfrikaansMustFall movement, which has manifested itself in both the physical and digital space (often also referred to as cyberspace). Here we consider digital space as the non-physical space within which we communicate by means of telecommunication and computer networks, more specifically the Internet, and the World Wide Web. In terms of the role that digital space and specifically the social media are playing in this movement, it resembles what has become known as the "Arab spring", a movement that has radically changed the world. Similarly, the position of Afrikaans has been changed irrevocably by #AfrikaansMustFall. This raises the question of how to address this issue, also in the context of language planning. The past 15 years have been characterised by an increasing migration of Afrikaans speakers into the digital space - a space that offers exciting new opportunities for Afrikaans. In order to make a constructive contribution to the growth of Afrikaans, this article posits the following: • that the focus until recently has been on the use and growth of Afrikaans in the physical space, but • that the space in which (Afrikaans) speakers live has been radically changed by the advent of modern (personal) computers, mobile technology and ever-increasing and faster electronic networks, which has resulted in a shift towards life in the digital space; • that every aspect of the Afrikaans speaker's existence, also his/her communication and language, has been affected by this shift; • that this trend is of key importance for future language diversity, and therefore also for Afrikaans; • that the vitality of Afrikaans will be determined increasingly by its use in the digital space; and • that the Afrikaans Wikipedia is a prerequisite for Afrikaans to ascend andflourish in the digital space. It is shown that language resources and language technology are central to this endeavour. In particular, it is explicated how the Afrikaans Wikipedia plays a pivotal role in the digital vitality of Afrikaans and that a high-quality, growing Wikipedia is a prerequisite for Afrikaans and also any other language to ascend in the digital realm. We also discuss various possibilities for Afrikaans speakers to contribute to the Afrikaans Wikipedia. The structure of the article is as follows: Following the introduction, Section 2 discusses the notion of language growth in the physical space. We consider various frameworks for studying language vitality, focussing on the conceptual similarities between these frameworks. In Section 3 we explore the concepts of the digital space, the Internet and the World Wide Web, paying specific attention to the essential components of successful web search. In Section 4 we explore the extent to which South Africans live in the digital space. By means of an example, we illustrate the difference between the English and Afrikaans web search experience and the related significance of the size of the respective Wikipedias. We then briefly emphasise the ground-breaking work of András Kornai (2013), which shows that the existence of a large, high-quality, growing Wikipedia is a necessary condition for the digital ascent of a language. Section 5 is devoted to a brief summary of those language resources and language technologies that are necessary for the digital ascent and vitality of a language. The situation of Afrikaans is described in this regard. Section 6 discusses Wikipedia, the largest, multilingual, open and free online-encyclopaedia on the Web, with its more than 36 million articles, 292 languages and almost 500 million unique visitors per month. We briefly explainwhat Wikipedia is and how it plays a key role in the so-called Semantic Web, the intelligent machine-processable web. Section 7 focuses on the Afrikaans Wikipedia, provides short guidelines on how to contribute to a "digital language movement", and concludes that the Afrikaans Wikipedia should play a vital role in the growth of Afrikaans in the digital space.

Keywords : Afrikaans; Wikipedia; on-line encyclopaedia; language growth; digital language vitality; physical realm; digital realm; Internet; World Wide Web; Semantic Web; digital language resources; language technology; DBpedia; content translation; digital language movement.

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